Senate Democrats are looking to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio today to twist the arms of a few of his fellow GOP senators on a controversial White House nomination.
They're hoping the Florida senator will help corral the 60 votes needed for the Senate to take up the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte, whose is Puerto Rican, and who had served on an interim basis as the ambassador to El Salvador.
The Senate is expected to vote this afternoon; Democrats say the timing of the vote has nothing to do with President Barack Obama's visit next week to Orlando, home to many of the swing state's Puerto Ricans voters. The president is scheduled next Friday to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Democrats in Washington D.C. and Florida have spent the week pressuring Rubio, who originally voted against bringing up her nomination for a vote when it failed 49-37 last year. In a call sponsored by the Florida Democratic Party, Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock said that Puerto Ricans will be watching Rubio's vote closely. Particularly those who live in Florida and who are represented by Rubio in the Senate, he said.
"A vote against Ambassador Aponte is a vote against those values and against the values and priorities of the Puerto Rican Community and it will be especially unacceptable to see Senator Marco Rubio, who represents many Puerto Ricans in the state of Florida and has called himself ‘the Puerto Rican voice in the Senate,’ be the main obstacle in the confirmation of this great nominee," McClintock said in a prepared statement.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week also sent a letter calling on Rubio to help round up votes for the president's nominee.
Rubio has said he would back Aponte this time around -- his previous opposition was more about his disagreement with the Obama administration's policies in Latin America, particularly Nicaragua. the senator agreed to back her after what Rubio's office described as "behind-the-scenes" talks with the administration about Nicaragua. After those talks, he also backed away from his opposition to other Obama administration nominees in the region, including Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
"Since Sen. Rubio’s opposition was never based on her personally and the administration has addressed his policy concerns, he looks forward to voting for her whenever Senator Reid brings her up for another vote," Rubio's spokesman Alex Conant said in an e-mail.
Hispanic leaders have also been working to get more Republican votes for her nomination. Aponte is the first Puerto Rican woman to serve as a U.S. ambassador. But she has a complicated past -- a former boyfriend was accused of being a Cuban spy. The FBI cleared Aponte, who later received two top security clearances, but not before the chatter scuttled her 1993 nomination by President Bill Clinton to serve as ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
Other Republican senators also oppose Aponte's nomination, including most notably Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who was critical last year of an op-ed Aponte wrote in a Salvadoran newspaper praising the country for its support of a U.N. declaration that calls for eliminating violence against gays and lesbians.